An adage that’s proven itself time and time again during my moto-touring adventures.
Story & Photos by John Lewis
It took me a moment to realize that the rat-a-tat-tat sounds on my helmet were from sleet. My visor, usually one to stay dry and clear, was fogged up and wet inside and out. My visibility was blurred, and I, even with earplugs, couldn’t miss the thunder – which sounded very angry – that let me know that the weather had gone from bad to worse. Then, a white light almost immediately illuminated the outer edges of my visor. Lightning. Behind me. And close. Drat!
I was riding west out of Canso, N.S., and had climbed up to a windswept plain where the trees were stunted and many had few or no leaves at all. The highway seemed like the highest point. Wait a minute. I was on the highway. I was the highest point. I needed to get off of this road. And fast!
Five minutes back, I had passed what I thought was a general store. It was the only manmade structure I’d seen for a while. I did a quick U-turn – it was easy: there was no one else out in that weather – and went back to find it. I pulled in and saw a sign that said Motor Vehicle Licensing or some such thing. I didn’t really register that the building wasn’t a general store, as I know that many rural general stores often do just about everything. The building looked like it was closed, so I peeped through the window. It wasn’t a general store; three motorcycles sat on the floor. But the building didn’t look like any motorcycle dealer I’d ever seen either. I didn’t know what it was. I checked the door, and a note said to go to the shop in a separate building behind.
New Friendships Made
I peeped into the window of that building and immediately jumped backward, startled by a leaping German shepherd, its frantic barking and junkyard persona not making me feel particularly welcome. The dog’s name was called, and it retreated. I opened the door and entered with trepidation. There, I met Holger. He was repairing a motorcycle. I told him that I needed to get out of the lightning storm and dry my visor. The dog ambled over and said hello in a more friendly way. Although he was a German shepherd, he was a pussycat. He liked the attention I gave him and we became fast friends.
Holger is a pre-eminent motorcycle mechanic who is well known in Germany, as I found out later from his friend. Back home, Holger had been responsible for setting up the Yamaha Racing Team’s motorcycles. He was well respected and had owned his own motorcycle dealership in Germany before he came to Canada.
And so begins my story about the unforeseen – some may think unfortunate – events that made my trip to Nova Scotia so interesting and gave rise to the adage I would soon come to associate with moto-touring.
Adversity Breeds the Best Stories
When you are motorcycle touring, you wouldn’t normally consider rain, sleet and thunder and lightning to be welcome additions to your trip. Great roads and clear days are what you probably expect. Now, I’m not so sure. At the end of the day on a canoe trip, you don’t sit around the campfire talking about the flat lake you paddled across. You talk about getting lost on the mosquito-laden, bushwhacking portage that took you twice as long as it should have and made you paddle well into the evening. Adversity is what gives you stories to tell – so, too, with motorcycle touring. Adventures are boring when everything goes according to plan.
My best stories almost always arise from how an obstacle was overcome or are about the event that wouldn’t have happened had a setback not occurred. The ensuing event is invariably better than what had been planned: the place more scenic; the people more interesting (or generous, or colourful, or helpful); the experience more profound. Hiccups in my journeys almost always lead to the best memories. Sure, stuff happens. But I’m beginning to realize that when one door closes, another always opens. That is an adage that proves true, time and time again.
Holger, being a motorcycle mechanic and enthusiast, was delighted to help out a fellow motorcyclist. The weather wasn’t letting up, so I decided that I needed to hunker down until the weather abated. Holger just happened to have a buddy, Thomas, also from Germany, who had a rustic cabin on Hayden Lake – not five minutes down the road. Holger was generous with his time. He negotiated a “biker” rate for me over the phone with Thomas and, since Thomas was away from the property, took me there, got me the key from under the secret rock and made sure I was comfortable. Before leaving, he asked me where I planned to go next and made a point of telling me about some great motorcycle roads in the area and the best roads to use on my way to Halifax and Lunenburg. Thanks, Holger!
When Thomas got back, he promptly brought over a six-pack of Heineken, which he figured I needed after riding in that mess. The cabin was great. Warm, dry, picturesque – just about perfect. I liked the cabin so much that I stayed there for two nights, doing some hiking out by Little Dover and enjoying the lake and a perfectly grilled steak cooked on the barbecue that sheltered under the covered porch. I also took my favourite photo from my trip, a picture of a blue canoe on the dock amidst the fog.
I never would have found this mini-paradise had I not run into bad weather, or if I hadn’t just ridden past Holger’s shop, or if it was a general store and not a bike rider-friendly motorcycle repair shop, or if Holger didn’t have a buddy who just happened to have a cabin that was available at an affordable, biker rate. Like I said, when one door closes, another opens. That was proving to be a theme for the trip.
A Lucky Sign
On my way to Cape Breton to ride the Cabot Trail, I pulled into Antigonish for some fuel for both my bike and me. When I came back out on the highway, the bike felt a little funny. Often this can be caused by an odd road surface and as soon as the pavement changes, the problem goes away. But I paid close attention. It wasn’t getting better; it was getting worse. I pulled over at a level road crossing about five metres into the cross street. I got off my bike and immediately found that the rear tire was flat.
I flagged over a pickup truck to ask the driver where I was so I could call CAA. He pointed at a sign. It was a billboard for a Yamaha dealer. I said, “Yeah, okay, but first I have to get there – and for that I need CAA.” I didn’t understand what he was going on about because the sign was surrounded by trees and bush; there weren’t any buildings in view. He said, “No, that is the dealer. That is the entrance to their driveway.” Turns out that the dealer was 300 metres up the driveway and couldn’t be seen from where I was. I called the number on the sign, and a young guy from the dealership brought out a truck and trailer and we took my fully laden bike into the shop.
They didn’t have the tire I wanted, but they did have a tire that would fit, so I was on my way in slightly more an hour. I reached Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, my planned destination, in plenty of time. Am I lucky or what? I mean, if you’re going to get a flat tire on a major highway, in this case Hwy. 104 just outside of Antigonish, getting one about 75 metres from the driveway to a motorcycle dealership on Pomquet River Road is the way to do it. What are the chances? I was beginning to think they were quite high. One door closed. Another opened.
Beers and a Book
On another occasion, I pulled over in Kentville, N.S., to see how far I was from Parrsboro. The GPS reading said 98 km. I called to tell my cousin that I was on my way and would be there in about an hour and a half. I wanted to go straight there because, of course, the forecast was for rain. I entered the destination into my GPS, which worked out the route: the display indicated I was going to have a 344-km ride. Ah ha! The 98 km was as the crow flies, straight across the Minas Basin. I called again to say I’d be there the following day and set out for Blomidon Provincial Park instead.
At the sign-in office, I met a young lady who was the park employee who would sign me in. Also there was a park volunteer – a lady closer to my age – who helped out. Turns out she was a motorcycle rider and enthusiast. After all of the laughs and stories, I took about half an hour to get out of the office, where, prominently displayed, was a sign that said that alcohol was banned from the park. Well, I hadn’t picked up any, so that wasn’t going to be an issue.
About 10 minutes after I arrived at my campsite and while I was setting up my tent, the volunteer showed up with my firewood, a brown paper bag and a book. She surreptitiously handed me the bag – there was cold beer inside – and said to be discreet. The book she gave me was a one cm-thick tourist guide called Motorcycle Tour Guide: Nova Scotia & Atlantic Canada, which is written by Harold and Wendy Nesbitt. It is a veritable treasure trove of motorcycle routes, sites, accommodations, etc., and became a valuable part of my tour planning. So, I couldn’t make it to my cousin’s place. So what. Instead, I sat around my campfire with my brown paper bag, reading my new book and enjoying being in the outdoors – until morning, at which time I broke camp in the rain. Overall, a great experience that would have been missed had things gone according to plan.
You might call my trip to Nova Scotia this year my Rain Ride of 2019. I don’t mind the rain – even riding in the rain – but when I have been riding and setting up camp in the rain, day after day, I eventually reach my rain tolerance threshold and am more apt to search for an affordable Airbnb or hostel than get drenched yet again. Which turned out to be a good thing because it led to a great experience on the way home. For my trip home, I didn’t want to have to worry about rain, so I went online in search of an affordable Airbnb and found one in Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac, Que. The Airbnb was an 1800s English fort called Fort Ingall. I slept in a bunk bed in dorm-style sleeping quarters in the bunkhouse behind the fort’s wooden fence, in which were holes every two metres through which soldiers would fire their muskets. If I had wanted a more realistic experience, I could have chosen straw bedding. Nah. I chose a mattress.
After about 6 p.m., the entire staff left, leaving the fort in the hands of the three of us staying that night. We built a fire (free firewood) and told stories around it until we retired to our bunks. That experience was pretty cool, and never would have happened if my trip wasn’t so full of rain.
Most of my trip was uneventful. I rode the Cabot Trail (albeit nervously, on unfamiliar, mismatched tires), saw the tides on the Bay of Fundy and spent a few days in Lunenburg camping in the town’s campground. I saw some lighthouses and rode on some great roads, including a route just outside of Parrsboro that the locals call the Mini Cabot Trail and which leads down to Advocate. In spite of the rain, the flat tire and the changes in plans, I had a great time. And through it all, I’ve become better at motorcycle touring. I’ve learned to embrace the obstacles and setbacks because, as was proven time and time again…
When one door closes, another opens.